The other evening I went to a community event where the organizer asked each person to write down a commitment for the upcoming year. This suggestion made me reflect on my first experience of deliberately setting intentions.
During my freshman year in college I was part of an organization in our dorm that met weekly to build community amongst the students. Towards the end of the semester our facilitator asked us to make a list of 25 things that we wanted to see or do within our lifetime. It didn’t matter how outrageous the ideas seemed or whether we had any concrete plan to bring them to fruition. The task was to reflect and write. It was my introduction to what some refer to as a bucket list.
My 18-year-old self initially thought, “This is stupid”.
Nonetheless, I was impressionable and open to trying new things. I went ahead and wrote down 25 items. Some were ideas that seemed really cool to me, such as traveling to distant lands, living in a city, and learning another language. Some of the items I listed were goals, such as going to medical school and one day paying off its associated debt. Other items were desires for the distant future, such as getting married and starting a family. I completed the activity as directed, shoved the list in a notebook, and didn’t think much of it afterwards. In other words, I let it go.
I lost track of the physical list over many years and multiple moves across the US. However, experiences in my life would bring the list back to my memory. Traveling to South Africa was at the top of my list and an opportunity to travel there presented itself later during my college years. Living in the city of Cleveland, I reflected on my list in amazement one afternoon while walking home in 10 inches of snow and freezing temperatures. That moment crystalized the importance of specificity and clarity in setting intentions. I was indeed living in a city like my 18-year-old self thought would be cool, but this was a little too cool for me. I made a mental adjustment to my list and clarified my intention to living in a warm, coastal city. I moved to LA after Cleveland.
Over the years, I became surprised at how most of the items had come or were coming true. Achieving some of the items were growth experiences that were not easy. They highlighted the need to gain clarity in certain areas of my life. All of these experiences, though, led me to see the power in creating intentions and how they enhanced my life. I added new ones as others were fulfilled.
Remarkably, I didn’t have a plan or definite timeframe to manifest any of the items when I created or refined aspects of the list. I had just taken a moment to reflect on what resonated with me at the time, what felt true and made me feel joyful at the thought of it coming true, and what would make an interesting life to me. I then let the intentions go and allowed life to happen while paying attention to opportunities as they presented themselves.
THE NEW YEAR: RESOLUTIONS AND INTENTIONS
Intention setting creates awareness to what brings meaning and fulfillment to our lives. With the New Year upon us, it is often a time to reflect. It is also an opportunity to tune in to what intentions feel right going forward from today.
The New Year is also usually a time when people set resolutions. Although the words resolution and intention can be used synonymously, they have different meanings. A resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something. An intention is a thing intended; an aim. I see a resolution as having a plan. An intention is more like an idea or a way of being. It seems more liberating than a resolution and with less judgement associated with whether or not it’s obtained.
One may have both resolutions and intentions.
With resolutions, goals or commitments, I like the idea of setting up one’s self for success by creating SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for goals, aka resolutions, to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. For example, I resolve to eliminate refined sugar from my diet for 2 weeks after the holidays.
As for intentions, they involve determination to act a certain way or bring about an action. For example, I intend to minimize refined sugar from my diet after my two weeks of eliminating it. I also intend to be kind to myself and allow for some splurges around subsequent holidays and special occasions.
In setting intentions, it helps to carve out protected time to cultivate a period of peaceful reflection. This time can be one of meditation or prayer and we can ask for guidance from that which fills our spirit. It is important to cultivate the time and space for the mind, heart, and body to connect, as this connection presents intentions that reflect our true self.
Consider taking a few moments to reflect on resolutions for the new year and intentions for your life. Write them both down. For resolutions, keep them SMART. For intentions, get in tune with your heart. Find a quiet, peaceful space. Imagine yourself free from any restrictions. Take a few breaths and listen to what makes your heart feel open and alive.
The thoughts that make your heart feel open and alive are the intentions to write down.
Go a step further and ask yourself why that item brings you joy or peace or makes you excited. Write down that reason, as well. When you’re done, take a moment to soak in your list.
Express gratitude for this moment of awareness.
Allow yourself to feel like you already have everything you’ve written down (perhaps you do). Then place your list in a special location or hide it away somewhere. Let it go and allow life to unfold while paying attention to the opportunities, lessons, and gifts life presents going forward.
Thoughts & Questions:
Will you create a peaceful moment for reflection? When?
What resonates with you at this time as fun, fulfilling, exciting, or peaceful?
What thoughts make your heart feel open and alive?
What would make an interesting life for you?
What is it about each item that makes you joyful?
If you make New Year’s Resolutions, can you frame them as SMART goals?
Christie Masters, MD, is a physician and life coach based in Los Angeles. She offers individual and group life coaching and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.